Is it You or Them?  What’s Really the Problem at Work?


Do you dread going in to work every morning?  Some people purposely get in late everyday, or find themselves making excuses to call out sick just so they can spend less time at their job.  These thoughts and actions can be common for life science professionals if they hate their job or are in a toxic work environment.  You might go back and forth, having a few good days and then a few bad days that could cause even more confusion.  It’s natural that you might question yourself and wonder, ‘Is this all in my head?’ 

On average, Americans spend more time in the workplace than at home.*  Needless to say a toxic work environment or unfulfilling job can have a large impact on other areas of your life including your mental and physical health, relationships, and overall happiness.  Before you consider making a change, it’s imperative that you get to the root of your problems at work.  Examining the following areas can help you figure things out.    

Get stress under control

High stress levels can negatively influence your thoughts and feelings, cloud your judgment, and prevent you from doing your best work.  Are you stressed on the job?  Work was found to be one of the top two stressors for people overall.*  It’s not surprising that professionals with a high level of stress tend to have more problems at work.  Try applying these three tips for stress management on the job for one week. 

After that, ask yourself, ‘Do I still consider this a toxic environment?’  Another way to think about it is, ‘Am I still unhappy here?’  Many people can significantly improve their situation and overall career by reducing the amount of stress they have in their lives.  There’s a chance that just by sticking to a routine for stress management, it can cause a drastic shift in your professional career.  It is also a reality that getting your own stress level under control might not influence your experience at work.     

Write out your problems/challenges

If you still find yourself dissatisfied in the workplace, make a detailed list of all your issues or challenges.  How long is the list?  Generally, the longer the list the more negative your working situation is.  Read back all that you wrote and indicate if each issue is an internal problem, (one that you have personally with how things are done) or an external problem (something beyond your control to change). 

You have at least some degree of control over internal problems such as: I’m not reaching my performance goals, I’m not completing my projects on time, and I don’t like the way this colleague speaks to me.  Usually, external problems are far beyond your control and might include issues like: I’m not given the appropriate resources to do my job (after asking for them), my boss has a combative personality, and there is a negative company culture. 

It’s possible that you might address an internal problem with a colleague, and they refuse to compromise or change their actions.  An example of this might be, if you tell your manager you don’t appreciate being yelled at in front of your coworkers.  You would prefer that they talk to you privately in a calm manner about any issues they have with you and your work.  If your manager continues, the issue can become an external problem.

Evaluate your circumstances

What can you actually do about any of your grievances?  Are they mostly internal problems that you can address, or are they external factors with a small likelihood of changing?  If you’ve identified many internal areas that you can work on start there.  Come up with a plan to handle each internal problem on the list.  The key is not to focus on implementing too many things at once.  Begin with solving one or two internal problems at a time.

If you see that your list consists of many external problems, it’s time to think about your capabilities and options.  Due to an established hierarchy in many organizations, you are limited by your role (or level) when it comes to making changes.  As a staff member you might be able to make suggestions for changes to management or executives, but there is a chance that nothing will come of them.  Then, you’ve got to ask yourself, ‘are you okay if nothing changes in your working environment?’

If you’re wondering whether your job is really the source of unhappiness and stress, you’ve got to be completely honest with yourself.  Try getting your stress levels under control first and see if your experience changes in the workplace.  If not, write out all of the problems and challenges in your role.  Determine if your issues are internal or external.  Finally, evaluate your circumstances comprehensively.  It is rare to find a perfect workplace.  Based on your salary, position, and work environment, can you live with this?

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Reference: 3 Tips for Stress Management in a Toxic Work Environment

Porschia Parker is a Certified Coach, Professional Resume Writer, and Founder of Fly High Coaching. She empowers ambitious professionals and motivated executives to add $10K on average to their salaries.

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